We just got back from spending two days with our best Thai friend Vit, his family and friends. Vit invited us to his hometown for a festival at the Buddhist temple to celebrate the completion of a new building. Town festivals like this one only happen once every five years, so it was going to be a big event. How could we decline the invitation?
Within the first hour of being in Vit’s hometown, we drank fresh coconut juice from his brother’s palm tree, a pomegranate from his mother’s pomegranate bush and a small green fruit from his neighbor. In typical Thai style, we’d be eating every hour.
We realized it was going to be an interesting weekend when all the neighborhood kids began filing into Vit’s lawn, hiding behind each other while staring at us with dark brown eyes. The group of seven or eight children followed us around the neighborhood as we paraded from house to house to meet Vit’s family, eventually finding his aunt’s cows more interesting than Todd and I.
As soon as we entered the aunt’s property, Vit’s 85 year-old grandmother (“yai”) spotted me and asked me to sit next to her. Her tiny, frail body sat with legs crossed on the concrete floor of the family home. Immediately, she grabbed my hands and began petting them, telling me she was cold (“now”) and my hands were so warm. Todd knelt down next to us. Grandma’s hands left mine, took Todd’s hands in her own and began praying for his health, prosperity, luck and safety. Then she wrapped white string around his wrist twice, cut it from the spool with a dull scissor and tied the ends as she finished the prayer. She repeated the ritual three more times – one for each of our wrists. Throughout the weekend, people would see the string on our wrists and ask who blessed us, so we felt so honored.
As the sun started setting, we piled into Vit’s brother’s pickup truck and headed toward his friend Suvid’s house and restaurant. Tables and plastic chairs were set up behind the house next to the outdoor kitchen. There we were served barbecued pork, sticky rice and naturally Thai beer and whiskey. Vit introduced us to all of his friends and relatives who, with broad, toothy smiles, eagerly shook our hands and bowed their heads as they pressed their hands in prayer (“wai”). When our glasses became empty, our new friends were happy to fill them. In a home nearby, we heard people singing karaoke, so with alcohol-fueled courage, we decided to join in on the karaoke fun.
When we showed up at the karaoke house, we were greeted with smiles, handshakes, “wais” and whiskey! Everyone was eating barbecued fish, rice and other snacks while a few people sang Thai karaoke songs. As soon as they heard that I wanted to sing, people began making requests! While cameras flashed and smartphones recorded, I sang “Hotel California” by The Eagles, “Sugar” by Maroon 5 and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis. Did I mention I had a back-up dancer? No karaoke with a “farang” (foreigner) would be complete without a drunk, middle-aged Thai man dancing along!
By now, it was 10pm and we were ready to do some dancing at the festival. A stage filled with dancing party-goers, pulsating lights, a great live band and a dozen dancers was set up in a field in front of the temple complex. Anyone wanting to dance had to purchase a separate ticket for each song – except for us. As the only foreigners there, Todd and I were VIPs and invited to stay on stage – for free! – during all of the dance songs.
On the stage/dance floor, people were more relaxed from both dancing and booze. Many people surrounded Todd and I to say hello, dance with us, shake our hands or give us hugs. They were genuinely excited to meet us and happy to have visitors from halfway around the world in their small town.
As the midnight hour crept up and with half of our crew pretty drunk, we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow, would be another day of meeting more of Vit’s wonderful family and friends, eating delicious food and getting a Thai massage from Vit’s mom.
If ever you’re on vacation anywhere in the world or in the United States and a local invites you to their home – go. You won’t ever regret making new friends and experiencing the vibrant culture around you.